Urbanisation is one of the most significant global trends of the 21st century. About 6.25 billion people are predicted to be living in urban centres by 2050. Urban environments, infrastructures, facilities and services, depending how they are planned and constructed, can prevent or enable access, participation and inclusion of members of society (United Nations).
A huge challenge for world cities is to ensure older people continue to play an active role in the community and don’t become isolated. Isolation has a negative impact on health, and so tackling it is crucial. Small changes can make a difference in this regard. Older people are less likely to drive, preferring public transport or walking. The average person over 65 can walk at a speed of 3km/hr. At aged 80 that reduces to 2km/hr, compared with the average for a working aged person of 4.8km/hr. Reducing distances between transport stops, shops, benches, trees for shade, public toilets and improving pavements and increasing the time allowed to cross roads all encourage older people to be part of the urban environment (Guardian, 2016).
Examples of urban environments adapting to meet the needs of an aging population already exist. For example, in the UK plans are progressing to build 10 new towns designed to address ageing and health issues such as obesity. In addition to encouraging more active lifestyles, the designs could include wider footpaths, few trip hazards and moving LCD signs, making the streets easier to navigate for people with dementia and other age-related conditions (Guardian, 2016).
Cities that have addressed accessibility are likely to be ahead of the game in age-friendliness. In recent years there have been efforts to make cities more accessible to both disabled and elderly residents and visitors. For instance, Berlin is aiming for 100% accessibility by 2020. The city authorities are working to widen pavements, bring in tactile guidance at road crossings and provide easier access to trams and buses. Similarly, in 2016 Milan won the European Commission’s Access City Award for its high standard of building design and transport accessibility.
Age Friendliness in Ireland - County Cavan Age Friendly Initiative
Examples of best practice with respect to promoting age-friendly strategies for urban environments also exist in Ireland. For instance, Cavan County Council developed an Age Friendly County Initiative in 2012. The findings from extensive consultations undertaken with older people prior to launching its age friendly initiative revealed several strategic issues of concern for older populations, including Loneliness & Isolation, Accessibility, Rurality and Access to Health Services.
How the County responded:
The Cavan Older Persons Forum was formed and established itself as an all-encompassing group wholly representative of all older people living in Cavan. The Forum has responded to the strategy very proactively and has supported the responses from agencies.
Lack of information: Older people in Cavan identified a lack of information as a problem that constrained their access to services and supports. Cavan Older People’s Forum worked with Cavan County Council and Cavan Citizens’ Information Service to produce an information booklet that catered specifically for the needs of older people in County Cavan. This booklet was distributed at a cross border conference for older people through local networks. This booklet incorporated a wide range of relevant information from both the Citizens’ Information Service and the Council. Information covered includes grants for housing, libraries, cultural services, planning information, road safety, pensions, and welfare entitlements such as Carer’s Allowance. The Cavan Age Friendly Programme has also adopted a Cavan county version of the Age Friendly website which is being populated with input by all Alliance members.
Capacity Building Training: Older people stated that they wanted to get involved in advocacy work and to promote the Age Friendly approach. But to do this type of work they would need support and training to develop the necessary skills. They were subsequently able to employ a support worker and offer a range of training sessions to interested local older people. Older people received training in areas including communications, media awareness, age friendly auditing, team building and planning, setting up a website, and listening skills. They also received training from Citizens Information Service on fulfilling the role as an information provider. The older people who took part in this training programme found that it gave them an opportunity to engage effectively with their community on issues that impacted them at a local level. Older people organised and took part in various types of training to help strengthen their capacity to carry out Age Friendly work in the county.
An Age Friendly Park: Older people identified that there was a lack of suitable amenity space for all age groups, thereby presenting the opportunity to develop a park to encourage greater physical activity amongst the local population. Cavan County Council undertook phased development of Con Smith Park in Cavan town to meet the needs of all age groups in the community. Older people were consulted during the planning process for the park, which features an outdoor gym. This outdoor gym section for adults and older people won the Taoiseach’s Public Service Excellence Awards. The park also includes a children’s playground and accessible paths. It is within walking distance of the town and also features a 2km SlínaSláinte Walk. Some key benefits and positive outcomes are:
- An amenity space was developed that is usable for all age-groups
- Facilities are now provided that encourage older people, and all adults, to physically exercise
- Each item of equipment is designed to improve coordination, heart rate and posture
The county has been subsequently affiliated with the World Health Organisation's Age Friendly World, one of the first local authorities in Ireland to achieve this recognition.
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